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The Benefits of Using a Toner, According to a Derm

Let us guess: The first time you tried toner was at the suggestion of a teen magazine, circa a big breakout. And while it may have helped dry out a blemish or two, it also likely dried out the rest of your complexion in the process. Sound about right? Well, good news: The world of toner has come lightyears as of late.

If you’re interested in adding one to your skincare routine (or you simply need a refresher on which type is right for your skin), we checked in with Dr. Joshua Zeichner, board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, for his expert insight on all things toner and whether or not really need to use one.

What Is Toner?

Applied after face cleanser and before serums and/or moisturizer, toners are lightweight liquids that offer additional skincare benefits. “A toner is a liquid skincare product designed to deliver a particular active ingredient to the skin,” explains Dr. Zeichner. And while that may sound like, well, every other product in your arsenal, there’s more that sets toners apart. “Most people consider a toner to be part of the cleansing routine, but in fact it is designed to deposit an ingredient onto the skin rather than to remove anything from the skin,” explains the derm, adding, “Its benefits really depend on the particular active ingredients.” Our Baby Cheeks Hydrating Toner, for example, helps remove residual makeup and dirt left behind after cleansing, but its coconut water and bamboo extract also draws in moisture and restores the skin’s pH.

What Are the Benefits of Toner?

Unlike those harsh products from your teen years, toners nowadays have gentle formulations and targeted ingredients (in other words, they won’t over-dry skin or leave it red and blotchy). “Traditional toners contained drying alcohols, but the newest products contain ingredients ranging from antioxidants, hydrators, or even exfoliators,” says Dr. Zeichner. The latter applies to our Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Toner; formulated with AHAs and bearberry extract, it helps treat hyperpigmentation and leaves skin soft and radiant. (Although you’ll have a weekend-ready glow, you can absolutely use it daily.)

Toners are easy to layer into your daily skincare routine, too. “They can be applied immediately after cleansing as your base layer,” adds the derm. Pro tip: Pair your toner with our Down to Earth Reusable Cotton Pads to cut down on single-use waste.

Do I Need to Use Toner in My Skincare Routine?

It depends on you and your skin, but they can be a very beneficial step. “Toners are not necessary for everyone, but they can give your skincare routine a boost if you need it,” says Dr. Zeichner. Here are some signs you could use a toner:
  • Your skin’s pH needs to be rebalanced
  • You need some extra help removing makeup and oil
  • Your skin feels squeaky clean and dehydrated after cleansing
  • You want to unclog pores using a gentle chemical exfoliant

Because different toners provide different benefits, what you use should ultimately come down to your skin type or concerns. (Need help figuring out your skin type? Take our Skin Decoder quiz.) “You should choose a toner that suits your skin's needs, and your best friend's toner may not be right for you,” advises the derm. 

What’s the difference between serums and oils? We explain.